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Andrea Mantegna, Parnassus, 1497, tempera on canvas, 160 x 192 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Travel guide for Tuscany

Andrea Mantegna | Parnassus


Around 1495 Isabella d'Este planned to have the most famous painters of her time contribute pictures for her studiolo; she was unsuccessful in obtaining pictures from Leonardo (although he drew her portrait) and Giovanni Bellini, but not for want of trying. Mantegna, her court painter, and Lorenzo Costa, Mantegna's successor, each completed two canvases and Perugino one. Mantegna's so-called Parnassus, completed by 1497, is one of his finest works, much discussed and admired, although the exact meaning of the allegory remains elusive. As a painter dedicated to the study of antiquity and ancient archaeology, it is fitting that Mantegna should have produced a masterpiece with a classical theme.

In the centre of the painting representing a mythological scene the dancing Muses are easily identifiable, both on account of their number and the presence of the mountains in the top left of the picture. There was a tradition that the song of the nine sisters caused volcanic eruptions and other cataclysms which could only be stopped by Pegasus stamping his hoof - and indeed we see, on the right, the winged and bejewelled horse engaged in his providential pawing of the ground. Beside him is Mercury, whose presence is justified by the protection which he (together with Apollo) afforded the adulteress in the love affair between Mars and Venus. The two lovers hold sway over the scene from the top of Parnassus; a bed is beside them. The cuckolded husband, Vulcan, springs out from the entrance of his forge, fulminating against the faithless pair. Apollo is seated lower down, his lyre in his hands. Mantegna has integrated the landscape elements with the figures, using rocky cliffs as foils, while the central arch permits a deep vista into the rolling landscape.
In this late work Mantegna has maintained a monumental approach to human figures. Stocky and heavy-limbed, they plant their weight solidly in easy contrapposto.


Alberta De Nicolò Salmazo, Mantegna, Electa, Milano 1997.

Tatjana Pauli, Mantegna, serie Art Book, Leonardo Arte, Milano 2001. ISBN 9788883101878

Ettore Camesasca, Mantegna, in AA.VV., Pittori del Rinascimento, Scala, Firenze 2007. ISBN 888117099X
[1] In 1459 Mantegna went to Mantua to become court painter to the ruling Gonzaga family and accordingly turned from religious to secular and allegorical subjects. His masterpiece was a series of frescoes (1465-74) for the Camera degli Sposi (“bridal chamber”) of the Palazzo Ducale. In these works, he carried the art of illusionistic perspective to new limits. His figures depicting the court were not simply applied to the wall like flat portraits but appeared to be taking part in realistic scenes, as if the walls had disappeared. The illusion is carried over onto the ceiling, which appears to be open to the sky, with servants, a peacock, and cherubs leaning over a railing. This was the prototype of illusionistic ceiling painting and was to become an important element of baroque and rococo art.
Mantegna's later works varied in quality. His largest undertaking, a fresco series on the Triumphs of Caesar (1489, Hampton Court Palace, England), displays a rather dry classicism, but Parnassus (1497, Louvre, Paris), an allegorical painting commissioned by Isabelle d'Este, is his freshest, most animated work.
[2] Lo Studiolo di Isabella d'Este nel Palazzo Ducale di Mantova
Lo Studiolo era un ambiente privato di Isabella d'Este nel Palazzo Ducale di Mantova. Situato inizialmente al piano nobile del castello di San Giorgio, venne trasferito nel 1523 negli appartamenti di Corte Vecchia. Isabella fu l'unica nobildonna ad avere uno studiolo, a riprova della sua fama di dama colta del Rinascimento, che preferiva gli interessi intellettuali e artistici a uno stile di vita frivolo.

Arte in Toscana | Lo Studiolo di Isabella d'Este


Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects

Art in Tuscany | Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

Volume III | Filarete And Simone To Mantegna

Renaissance Portrait From Donatello to Bellini' - Review - NYTimes |
'(...)The standard format in painting early on was the profile, which, however beautifully realized in works by Masaccio, Fra Filippo Lippi, Pisanello and others, appears static, like an image on a shop sign. Profiles prevailed not for lack of technical know-how, but for symbolic reasons suggested by numerous medals included in the show. Each of these circular, cast metal objects, ranging from two to four inches in diameter, has the profile of a personage on one side and eclectic imagery, including unicorns, eagles and astrological personae, on the other; copies circulated throughout Europe like high-end calling cards.
They were inspired by ancient Roman coins, whose profiles of great leaders suggested transcendental timelessness. One, made by Matteo de’ Pasti for Leon Battista Alberti, pictures a disembodied eye with a wing attached on the reverse side, symbolizing a quasi-divine omniscience. So too, painted profiles rendered their subjects as idealized figures out of time.
From around midcentury on, painters shifted to three-quarter and frontal formats, and the people they painted became more lifelike. Subjects started to look back at viewers or stare thoughtfully into space. They began to have an appearance of physical animation and vitality.
The earliest surviving example of a three-quarter view is Andrea del Castagno’s 1450-57 picture of a man in a voluminous red robe and an early Beatles haircut who fixes his eyes on us with enigmatic intent.
And Andrea Mantegna’s close-up portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan from 1459-60, in which the fierce, square-jawed cleric leans to his right and looks up to his left, projects an especially palpable feeling of a living, contemporary presence.'

Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects | Andrea Mantegna

This page uses material from the Wikipedia articles Andrea Mantegna, Parnaso (Mantegna) and Isabella d'Este, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Parnaso (Mantegna).

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Isabella d'Este

Isabella d'Este (19 May 1474 – 13 February 1539) was Marchesa of Mantua and one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance as a major cultural and political figure. She was a patron of the arts as well as a leader of fashion, whose innovative style of dressing was copied by women throughout Italy and at the French court. The poet Ariosto lauded her as the "liberal and magnanimous Isabella",[1] while author Matteo Bandello described her as having been "supreme among women".[2] Diplomat Niccolò da Correggio went even further by hailing her as "The First Lady of the world".[2]

She served as the regent of Mantua during the absence of her husband, Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua and the minority of her son, Federico, Duke of Mantua. In 1500 she met King Louis XII of France in Milan on a diplomatic mission to persuade him not to send his troops against Mantua.

She was a prolific letter-writer, and maintained a lifelong correspondence with her sister-in-law Elisabetta Gonzaga. Lucrezia Borgia was another sister-in-law; she later became the mistress of Isabella's husband.


Leonardo Da Vinci, cartone per il ritratto di Isabella d'Este, Museo del Louvre, Parigi
Early life

Due to the vast amount of extant correspondence between Isabella and her family and friends, her life is unusually well-documented.[3] She was born on Tuesday 19 May 1474 at nine o'clock in the evening[4][5] in Ferrara, to Ercole I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and Leonora of Naples.[6] Leonora was the daughter of Ferdinand I, the Aragonese King of Naples, and Isabella of Taranto. .[7]

One year later on 29 June 1475 her sister Beatrice d'Este was born, and in 1476 and 1477 two brothers, Alfonso and Ippolito arrived. In 1479 and 1480 two more brothers were born; they were Ferrante and Sigismondo. Of all the children Isabella was considered to have been the favourite.

In 1479, the year of Ferrante's birth, Isabella travelled to Naples with her mother. When her mother returned to Ferrara, Isabella accompanied her, while the other children stayed behind with their grandfather for eight years. It was during the journey with her mother, that Isabella acquired the art of diplomacy and statecraft.


CIsabella, being naturally gifted and intellectually precocious in her youth, received an excellent education. As a child she studied Roman history, and rapidly learned to translate Greek and Latin (the former would become her favourite language). Because of her outstanding intellect, she often discussed the classics and the affairs of state with ambassadors. Moreover, she was personally acquainted with the painters, musicians, writers, and scholars, who lived in and around the court. Besides her knowledge of history and languages, she could also recite Virgil and Terence by heart. Isabella was also a talented singer and musician, and was taught to play the lute by Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa [8] In addition to all these admirable accomplishments, she also was an innovator of new dances, having been instructed in the art by Ambrogio, a Jewish dancing master.[9]

She was described as having been physically attractive, albeit slightly plump; however, she also possessed "lively eyes" and was "of lively grace".[10]

In 1480, at the age of six, Isabella was betrothed to Gianfrancesco, the heir to the Marquis of Mantua. Although he was not handsome, Isabella admired him for his strength and bravery; she also regarded him as a gentleman. After their first few encounters, she found that she enjoyed his company and spent the next few years getting to know him and preparing herself to be the Marchesa of Mantua. During their courtship, Isabella treasured the letters, poems, and sonnets he sent her as gifts.


Ten years later on 11 February 1490, at age 16, she married Francesco Gonzaga, who had by then succeeded to the marquisate. Isabella became his wife and Marchesa amid a spectacular outpouring of popular acclamation. Besides Marquis, Francesco was also Captain General of the armies of the Republic of Venice. She brought as her marriage portion, the sum of 3,000 ducats besides valuable jewellery, dishes, and a silver service.[11] Prior to the magnificent banquet which followed the wedding ceremony, Isabella rode through the main streets of Ferrara astride a horse draped in gems and gold.[12]

As the couple had known and admired one another for many years, their mutual attraction deepened into love; marriage to Francesco allegedly caused Isabella to "bloom".[13] At the time of her wedding, Isabella was said to have been pretty, slim, graceful and well-dressed.[14] Her long, fine hair was dyed pale blonde, and her eyes, "brown as fir cones in autumn, scattered laughter".[15]

Francesco, in his capacity of Captain General of the Venetian armies, was often required to go to Venice for conferences which left Isabella in Mantua on her own at La Reggia the ancient palace which was the family seat of the Gonzagas.[16] She did not lack company, however, as she passed the time with her mother and sister, Beatrice; and upon meeting Elisabetta Gonzaga, her 18-year-old sister-in-law, the two women became close friends. They enjoyed reading books, playing cards, and travelling about the countryside together. Once they journeyed as far as Lake Garda during one of Francesco's absences,[17] and later travelled to Venice. They maintained a steady correspondence until Elisabetta's death in 1526.

Almost four years after her marriage in December 1493, Isabella gave birth to her first child out of an eventual total of eight; it was a daughter, Eleonora, whom they called Leonora for short.

Lucrezia Borgia

A year after her marriage to Isabella's brother, Alfonso[19] in 1502, the notorious Lucrezia Borgia became the mistress of Francesco. Isabella had given birth to a daughter, Ippolita at about the same time, and she continued to bear him children throughout Francesco and Lucrezia's long, passionate affair, which was more sexual than romantic.[20] Lucrezia had previously made overtures of friendship to Isabella which the latter had coldly and disdainfully ignored. From the time Lucrezia had first arrived in Ferrara as Alfonso's intended bride, Isabella, despite having acted as hostess during the wedding festivities, had regarded Lucrezia as a rival, whom she sought to outdo at every opportunity.[21] Francesco's affair with Lucrezia, whose beauty was renowned,[13] caused Isabella much jealous suffering and emotional pain.[20] Their liaison ended when he contracted syphilis as a result of encounters with prostitutes.



Andrea Mantegna, Portrait of Francesco Gonzaga, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli

Isabella d'Este, ritratto di TizianoPortrait of Isabella d'Este in her sixties, by Titian. Originally, Titian painted a more aged Isabella, but she was so displeased with it that she made him repaint it so that she appeared forty years younger

Portrait of a woman by Bartolomeo Veneto or Bartolomeo Veneziano (1502 – 1555),
maybe Lucrezia Borgia

On a clear day you can see Corsica

Podere Santa Pia, a former cloister, is located in the heart of southern Tuscany, just 22 km from Montalcino, in a small hidden valley among the rolling Maremma hills. The panoramic position in the Tuscan countryside offers great views. To the south is the little isle of Montecristo. On a clear day you can even see Corsica, 250 km away.